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Innovations: Sound Devices CL-12 Alaia Linear Fader Controller

Portable audio mixers have played a significant role in television and film production for several decades, and are indispensable to a sound mixer who needs to stay mobile during on-location shoots.

Portable audio mixers have played a significant role in television and film production for several decades, and are indispensable to a sound mixer who needs to stay mobile during on-location shoots. Such devices are sometimes referred to as “bag” or “over-the-shoulder” mixers because that’s how they are typically carried and operated by audio professionals in the field.

Sound Devices has built a dedicated following around the world by manufacturing high-quality audio field mixers and recorders, renowned for their rugged durability, operational flexibility, and pristine audio quality. Our pioneering heritage lies within its production-oriented field mixers and recorders. As the industry evolved from analog to digital tape-based and fully file-based workflows, Sound Devices’ innovative 7-Series was instrumental in helping audio professionals make the transition.

We strived to continue this focus on innovative audio solutions when we designed the Sound Devices’ 6-Series line of production field mixers, which includes the 633, 664, and most recently, the 688. These portable mixers come equipped with integrated recorder s all housed in one compact device. Prompted and inspired by customer feedback, we designed our latest 688 mixer/recorder by incorporating the best features of our existing products, while making it even more versatile. The 688 mixer/recorder is a powerful and feature-laden device, offering 12-inputs and eight output buses for flexible routing, 12-channel auto-mixing capability, plus a 16-track recorder, internal Ambient timecode generator, easy-to-read LCD metering, and much more. As soon as the 688 launched, our sights quickly shifted to, “How could we improve?”

Inspired by past successes with the ever-popular 788T system, along with its numerous add-ons, we listened to 688 users, their challenges and more immediate requirements. That customer-focused design approach is what drove Sound Devices to develop the CL-12 linear fader controller, an optional accessory for the 688.

The CL-12 is a breakthrough accessory that significantly expands the mixing capabilities of the 688. For starters, the CL-12 provides full 12-channel 100 mm linear fader mixing, three-band parametric equalizer on all inputs, large sunlight-viewable 22-segment LED level indication for output controls, and seven-segment level pre-or post-fade metering. The CL-12 also offers easy keyboard metadata entry, illuminated dedicated push button controls for transport controls, arming, routing, naming and much more.

Despite all of this functionality, perhaps the most striking feature of the CL-12 is its appearance. The product’s profile is a mere 11-inches x 15-inches, and it adds only five pounds to a sound mixer’s toolkit. Extremely sleek and stylish, the CL-12 is available in two models: a standard model and the CL-12 Alaia (pronounced “ah-LIE-ah”). The key differentiating feature of the CL-12 Alaia is its silky smooth Penny & Giles linear faders. Penny & Giles is a manufacturer revered by the production sound community for engineering the smoothest faders in the industry.

Another key feature of the CL-12 Alaia is its custom-made hardwood side panels. The side panels are truly a work of art, specially made by Amish craftsmen through our partnership with J&E Custom Woodworks in Cashton, Wisconsin. The CL-12 Alaia is available in either blonde curly maple or red mahogany hardwood, and also ships with standard black anodized aluminum sides.

The unique custom hardwood panels are crafted at J&E with no electricity; all of the shop’s power tools are powered via diesel engine through a system of belts. We communicate with J&E via a weekly phone call from the lone phone line in a shed next to Cashton’s town hall. The partnership between us—a high-tech manufacturer and Amish craftsmen—seemed like an unusual pairing, but the end result was truly a landmark product for us. This collaboration successfully bridged the gap between modern audio technology and custom Amish craftsmanship, and it was fun. The attention to quality, hands-on development and the natural durability of the hardwood side panels inspired us to name it the “Alaia.” Alaia is the name for the historic, hand-carved wooden surfboards out of Hawaii, renowned for their flawless design, durability, and longevity.

The hardwood side panels are also a nostalgic nod to classic mixing consoles and wood-encased consumer electronics from the 1960s. The addition of wood adds a one-of-a-kind quality as unique as the grain and feel of each individual piece of wood. It’s also an aesthetically pleasing touch that hints at the artistry needed, beyond technology, to be a successful sound mixer. Of course, the CL-12’s beauty is not just skin deep. Sound Devices products have long been associated with meticulous engineering, and the CL-12 is no exception. The slope and profile of the control panel was specially designed to facilitate fast-paced operation, provide enhanced operator comfort, and help prevent fatigue during long periods of use.

Both CL-12 models were designed from the ground up to withstand the often rugged conditions encountered during field operations. Frames and panels are constructed with high-strength aluminum that has been powder coated to handle the harshness of daily handling. The CL-12 was rigorously tested, as are all of our products, to help ensure that it will continue to deliver the same exceptional performance it had during its first use. To give you a better idea of the extreme testing methods we’ve used over the years, some production models have been dropped, kicked, or run over with a car. Others have been repeatedly shaken by a vibration table, and a few have even been fired at with our homemade “potato cannon.”

Connecting the CL-12 and the 688 is quick and easy via two cables. First, a single USB cable delivers both power and control information between the two units. A second 1/4-inch headphone cable provides a passive passthrough for the headphone signal. Two rear-panel USB ports are available for connecting both a lamp and a keyboard.

The 688, along with the new CL-12, moves easily between over-the-shoulder and mixing cart environments, and both are equally at home in television field production and cinema on-location shoots—anywhere portability, flexibility, ease of operation, and high reliability are required.

Matt Anderson is the CEO of Sound Devices LLC.

Sound Devices